After a tiring day, a multi-page menu can really detract from the unwinding process. At Medium Rare, a critically-acclaimed restaurant based in D.C. and specializing in steak frites, dinner guests make one choice concerning their entree — how they would like their steak cooked.
With three Zagat-rated locations in Washington D.C., 12 years after their flagship Cleveland Park restaurant opened its doors, co-founders Tom Gregg and Mark Bucher are searching for 26 potential Medium Rare locations in major metro areas throughout the country, including Atlanta. The most ideal space, Bucher told What Now Atlanta, would be an existing second or third-generation restaurant on a street corner measuring between 2,700 and 3,000 square feet with a large outdoor seating area.
For the fixed price of $24.95, diners at Medium Rare restaurants start their meal with a bread basket, then whet their appetite with a mixed green salad before cutting into their culotte steak and hand-cut fries, drizzled in the eatery’s secret sauce (which is beloved enough to warrant its online sale). The only deviation, added to the menu for patrons with dietary restrictions, is a grilled portobello mushroom in a roasted red pepper sauce, also served alongside a generous portion of fries. Beverage choices are more varied, but only slightly, with four red wines, four white wines and four beers available. For mixed drinks, each restaurant carries just one variety of vodka, bourbon, scotch and tequila.
At brunch, which the restaurant hosts each Sunday, the menu gets slightly more varied with five meal options and a bottomless cocktail menu. Their dessert menu is also more robust, also with five options.
The concept for Medium Rare was devised in Paris, Bucher said, when he owned the BGR burger franchise.
“[Tom Gregg] was over in Paris for a work assignment for a year with his family and I had a chain of burger restaurants,” said Bucher. “He said ‘you have to see this restaurant, there’s a line of people waiting to get in — you walk in, you sit down and there’s no menu.’ We got through our meal and I thought ‘this is great, I can Americanize this.'”
Bucher and Gregg certainly didn’t invent the concept of a restaurant specializing only in steak frites — restaurants in France and Switzerland have done so since the 1920s. But the concept was novel in the United States, and Medium Rare’s efficient model compounded its success. A hyper-limited number of menu items minimizes food waste and expenditures, Bucher said, and customers get in and out of the restaurant more quickly when they don’t need to pore over their menus. On an average night, Bucher said, Medium Rare’s Washington D.C. locations turn over their dining room eight times, seating 500 to 600 patrons.
“We do it with ease and grace and no one feels rushed at all,” said Bucher. “We never change. The core never changes, the food never changes, there are no daily specials… it’s like a well-worn pair of jeans, it’s comforting. That really works for us.”
The restauranteurs also aim to create easy conversation pieces built into the dining experience — pick-up lines in French are printed on the eatery’s napkins with the English translation visible when the linen is unfolded. In their restaurants’ bathrooms, an 11-year-old recording of Gregg and Bucher teaching their French friend various pick-up lines, which he repeats back to them in a thick accent, plays on a loop.
Bucher said that the average tenure of a Medium Rare staff member is 8 years, adding familiar faces to the restaurant’s comforting simplicity.
Along with Atlanta, Bucher and Gregg intend to open locations in Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Louisville, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando, Philidelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis and Tampa. At each new location, the restauranteurs will bring on local staff. They may also launch their charity initiative “Feed the Fridge” in these new cities, placing refrigerators at various locations and paying area restaurants to stock them for the hungry. In 2020, according to the charity’s website, Feed the Fridge facilitated the stocking of 6,000 meals to refrigerators stationed around Washington D.C. and the delivered another 9,000 to seniors spending holidays alone.
Gregg and Bucher hope to open all 26 new locations within the next five years, and hope for their Atlanta location to materialize early in the process. However, Bucher said, “we’re under no timeframe to make a deal — there’s only going to be one [in each city], it’s got to be that really great location.”
“We’ve always wanted to expand it, we’ve just been waiting for the right time. We wanted to do more than one,” said Bucher. “There’s a lot of restaurants out there that are in trouble right now — we might be able to help them by getting out of their lease and taking their space so they can get out unhurt.”